As we approach the summer months with lockdown restrictions easing further, I am acutely aware that the loosening of restrictions last year brought with it an aggravating and troublesome increase in speeding and noise across our beautiful constituency caused by anti-social drivers and motorcycle riders. Along with every other Sussex MP, I saw my inbox fill with complaints from concerned members of the public about noisy motorbikes and cars speeding through our villages, along country roads and in our towns.
Operation Crackdown, launched in 2007, is a joint initiative supported by Sussex Police and the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership. It is a system which enables residents to report incidents of anti-social riding and driving, as well as of abandoned vehicles, online on a dedicated website. Similarly, Operation Downsway is a Sussex Police initiative launched last year, following the numerous complaints of anti-social riding and driving, to specifically target drivers and riders who do not use our roads responsibly and safely. Operation Downsway involves the Roads Policing Unit, police enforcement teams and neighbourhood policing officers actively targeting anti-social driving and riding on our local roads. These specialist teams provide education and enforcement to target offenders to help keep everyone safe.
For Operation Downsway to effectively and successfully combat and prevent anti-social driving and riding, however, it needs the public to engage with it. During a recent meeting with our local Chief Inspector, she expressed the need for the public to report suspected crime and abnormal incidents, however minor they might seem, to our local Police – including of anti-social riding and driving. From discussions with local residents it is clear that some people may feel that there is no point in reporting such incidents, as ‘the Police might not follow it up’ or they ‘are stretched enough’ but, whilst the Police may not be able to take a specific matter further for a variety of reasons, the information reported helps them build up a pattern of incidents or behaviour – building vital intelligence - which they can then use and act upon moving forward.
Our local Police are very aware that public confidence in them requires them to engage with the public through participation in community meetings, increasing officer visibility across our communities and talking to residents, as well as crucially bringing offenders to justice. I have been particularly impressed by the way in which our local Police have proactively engaged with the public – and local MPs like myself – during the Covid-19 pandemic and with regards to anti-social driving and riding, showing a clear determination to get it right for our communities.
Public confidence in our Police, however, also depends on the public engaging with them as the relationship must flow both ways. Prevention of crime and the maintenance of law and order is not the sole responsibility of the Police. We all need to do our bit, and perhaps ponder the words of Sir Robert Peel, the Father of Modern Policing, whose principles remain as important today as they were two centuries ago: “the Police are the public and the public are the Police; the Police are only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interest of community welfare”.
Anti-social driving and riding not only affects road safety, but also the quality of life in our towns and villages. It must be said that local residents are not without fault and, as individuals and communities, we do not have to tolerate the scourge of anti-social driving and riding. By working together, we can all help crack down on this malediction and make our roads safer and communities better both now and in the future.